Notes on Archaeological Conservation Author(s): Carolyn L.

Rose Reviewed work(s): Source: Bulletin of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, Vol. 14, No. 2, Papers Presented at the Second Annual Meeting. American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, Inc. (Apr., 1974), pp. 123-130 Published by: The American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works Stable URL: . Accessed: 09/09/2012 11:11
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123 Bulletin of the American Institute for Conservation Vol. 14, No. 2 (1974)

Carolyn L. Rose*

realize the importance of using While archaeologists and correlating methods in collecting, scientific analyzing, has not data, the same systematic always been apmethodology of artifacts. to the their Conservation, preservation plied has too often been postponed for months, if employed at all, The have been recovered. after the specimens sometimes years, on the features of newly exposed architectural stabilization site has also been neglected. are limited Granted, most archaeologists by finances, and been in "in-field" and time few have trained facilities, The number of archaeological conserconservation techniques. in comparison is also negligible to current demand. vators Nor are most museum conservator prepared to deal with all readily of the existing variables which would modify standard conservation techniques. in the field However, immediate treatment far surpasses conservation techniques any remedial that waiting would necessitate. in the laboratory with proper treatment

At present, there seems to be no alternative but to conapproach this problem so that any trained systematically servator can grasp the inherent of an archaeolocomplexities site. gical in a pre-defined pattern Working with known factors of reasoning can aid the conservator in visualizing the site and the state of the artifacts. He should then be able to which conservation would be applicable in a suggest techniques and location which would be for feasible the given archaeologist at his particular site. It is this correlation between archaeological conservation and a particular site which is vital. Critechniques tical also is the rapport which must develop between the archand the conservator, so that all conceivable variables aeologist can be accounted for. Whether the conservator himself will he must pre-orient the archaeologist Anthropology Conservation be in the field, in "first-aid" Smithsonian.

or whether




this type conservation techniques, will invaluable. operation prove

of correlation



Methodology A means of defining the site must first be determined. all of that it would be impossible to predetermine Realizing the complex reactions which would have taken place in the soil during a long period of time, and that there are large gaps in we are naturally in geological limited geological chronology; and must our to known confine correlations factors. Bedata, to specifics ginning with gross known data and extrapolating be made concernaccurate can when possible, fairly assumptions of the site. Systems may vary, but ing the basic conditions most sites can be broken down as follows: Ecological Zone

At this point the world can be divided into ecological zones determined by the the inclimatic conditions controlling of organisms. teraction eg. grasslands, tundra tropics, (This texts from can be obtained information on climatology and geochemistry)

Micro-environment in which the environment The specific can be supplied artifacts are located underwater, by the archaeologist. eg. cave, hearth Soil Soil eral Conditions (if applicable)

minaeration, texture, type(s), and organic content, pH, etc. from texts and the archaeologist)


of the material culture Depending on the origin in time must be considered excavated, separately determining has occurred. with the environment if and when homeostasis


Until many more sites have been studied, time will We must therefore large variable. rely on previous material in the same time span to determine culture of artifacts would be representative.

still be a finds of which types

the effect that each of these known By estimating factors has in promoting physical, and biological chemical, one can to determine differences in the decomposition, begin states of preservation of organic and inorganic matergeneral ials at different sites. the conservator can prepare Using these deductions, himself the with conservation and/or archaeologist supplies better suited to the material culture and in quantities rethe of number artifacts to be conserved. flecting By taking into account the climatic conditions of the area, the conservator also will be able to determine which chemical solutions can best maintain the stability of the specimens which are and stored in the field. being treated

Example Three sites, one in the sub-Arctic, and two in have served as of this methodology. At the Italy* examples former site the archaeologist was pre-trained in conservation In the latter two sites, the techniques by the conservator. conservator himself in applicable conservation pre-oriented Site #1 will be detailed with respect to this techniques. systematic approach. Site #1 (outlined to facilitate

correlations) House

Historical Eskimo

Eskimo Winter Island,


- Forest-Tundra


from references

on climatology)1

summerless Arctic region long extreme cold winters annual mean temperature: 300F (-10C) maintains soil moisture in frozen state until late spring *These two latter sites will be discussed at the annual meeting.


few feet thawing in first frozen subsoil soil seepage small precipitation small evaporation cloud covered areas humid soil and atmosphere Micro-environment

of soil

communication (personal archaeologist)2


latitude: 540N mean winter 0OF (-180C) temperature: mean summer temperature: 500F (100C) house made of turf and peat walls mammal oil hearth probably present-sea artifacts buried in peat 1650 date: approximate "Soil" Conditions


mounds covered with sedges, mosses lichen, unhumidified peat in upper levels humidified peat in lower levels surface surface thawing in summer - saturated which can The following chart suggests assumptions At this point we are dealing the site. be made concerning a permanently frozen with three separate micro-environments: and a freezing and thawing surface subsoil; probably a layer; hearth where the burning of oil would have taken place. (See table on following page) physical, effected From these observations, and biological chemical, the artifacts while they Deductions One could deduce that the artifacts recovered from the surface layer would be poorly preserved. Expansion and contraction as the result of freezing and thawing of ice would lead to the disruption of the cellular struccrystals ture of organic materials. Water movement, biotic activity, and acid conditions during the summer months would have one can begin to deduce reactions could have were buried. how








low to




damp to saturate frozen (75%)





may be negligible

%higher in cold water on % used up dependent in biotic activity below 7 mostly organic


below 7 mostly organic




terrestial pressure at this depth


and contraction expansion of thawing as the result and freezing one in late 1700's one in early 1800's


site dated to approximately 1650 A.D. - Two warming periods: fluctuation climatic


contributed iods" since an increase

to further deterioration. The two "warming perthe seventeenth century may also have influenced in the rate of these reactions.

should be well preserved in the Organic materials would have subsoil where biotic frozen activity permanently ceased. materials remay still Inorganic undergo chemical of rate these will be debut the reactions actions, greately creased. which could have The types of chemical reactions of in the hearth area will depend on the percentage occurred material. If saturated and charred were oil, peat, specimens would be minimized. oxidation reactions with oil, Representative artifacts

was to the artifacts Since the method of excavating one could assume that thaw the frozen subsoil layer by layer, all of the specimens would be cold and wet upon recovery. Bone of the ossein, decomposition, Hydrolysis organic and breakdown of the inorganic framework could have occurred on the surface If found, bone would during the summer months. and spongy. be fragmentary Methods of casting impressions, should be discussbone therefore the and impregnating lifting for cleaning, ed. Procedures slowly drying or impregnating should be outlined. well preserved bone from the permafrost Wood water movement, and biotic Freezing-thawing, of surto the deterioration would have contributed activity would be wet, Since all recovered face finds of wood. pieces of polyethylene with a solution glycol temporary impregnation was of low molecular suggested. weight, Tanned skins and textiles

similar to from reactions Leather would suffer of deterioration The extent those effecting bone and wood. tanning agents in the may have been minimized by protective that It was suggested acid conditions. and by slightly skin, in polyethylthese specimens be rinsed with water and sealed to keep them damp and then reburied ene bags with a fungicide;


cool. should Iron

The same procedure be better preserved

was mentioned for textiles, which if they were protein in origin.

iron objects should be in a reducing Fortunately otherwise even those artifacts buried in the frozen atmosphere; subsoil mineralized. may be completely Special precautions should be taken in lifting and packaging the iron; no attempts should be made in the field to remove corrosion layers. and sealed, wet, in plastics. Specimens were to be rinsed Several factors the environment must be concerning taken into account in deciding which impregnating and casting materials would be applicable at this site. Only impregnating solutions which would not be effected cold by temperatures could be used. The molecular must be low weight of the resins well under these conditions. The rate of enough to penetrate chemical reactions such as those involved in casting materials will be greatly decreased. Humid conditions may also necessitate the use of fungicides in packaging specimens. The stabilization of the site was of equal importance. After the artifacts were recovered, it would be necto refill all of the excavated areas to insure that the essary of the structure could be maintained. integrity While suggesting all of the aforementioned procedures, all conceivable variables had to be considered. In addition to those variables mentioned were those such as previously of conservation time, money, availability materials, space, means of transportation, facilities, energy sources, weight, the number of workers; the list could continue. Conclusion The problems may seem overwhelming, but those which will be solved by preventative conservation measures will far them. in a methout-weigh Working with the archaeologist odology such as this should alleviate many of the unanticipated difficulties in archaeological conservation. the variables one realizes Recognizing involved, that this is still a preliminary for a method with proposal which to approach "in-field" conservation. To avoid such prior of conditions and material of analysis culture, simply because


the many variables, is to do nothing to move forward in this of the site correlation and conservation. As with important all attempts in scientific one must not progress, by begin but must rather move toward being overwhelmed by the problems, solutions. This is such a proposal. Unless the perfecting at least conservator studies the situation, the archaeologist has no choice but to continue as before.



References 1 Arthur N. Strahler, 328-9 pp. 218-9, 2 William Smithsonian W. Fitzhugh, Institution The Earth Sciences (New York, 1963), The

Associate (personal

Curator of Archaeology, communication)

Environmental 3 William W. Fitzhugh, Archeology in Hamilton Labrador (Washington, Systems Inlet, David Von Endt, Organic communication) (personal Nathaniel (personal Chemist, The Smithsonian

and Cultural D.C.), p.37 Institution

Davis, Geo-Chemist, communication)

The American

University Institution

Richard Jordan, Field Director, communication) (personal


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